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Author Topic: EP411: Loss, With Chalk Diagrams  (Read 2068 times)
eytanz
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« on: August 30, 2013, 07:01:57 AM »

EP411: Loss, With Chalk Diagrams

by E. Lily Yu

Read by Eleiece Kraweic

--

Never before in her life had Rebekah Moss turned to the rewirers, not as a tight-mouthed girl eavesdropping by closed doors on her parents’ iceberg drift toward divorce, nor after she heard with bowed head, her body as blushingly full as a magnolia bud, the doctor describing the scars that kept her from having Dom’s child. She took few risks and accepted all outcomes with equanimity. But when her old friend Linda was found beneath a park bridge in Quebec with her wrists slit lengthwise to the bone, leaving no note, no whisper of explanation, she hesitated only a moment before linking to the rewiring center. Saturday next was the first available appointment, a silvery voice informed her, and she took it. When she ended the call she wrapped her arms around her legs and tilted back and forth, blinking hard, her own breathing a foil rustle in her ears.

She had been twelve years old when rewiring was first approved for use on a limited clinical population. The treatment involved a brew of sixteen neurotoxins finely tuned to leave normal motor, memory, and cognitive processes intact, burning out only those neural pathways associated with grief and trauma. It was recognized as a radical advancement in medicine, and the neuroscientists involved in its development had been decorated with medals, presidential visits, and a research foundation in their names.

Her family supported her choice, of course. They pressed lemon tea and tissues and bitter chocolate upon her while she stumbled through the week, her whole world gone faint and gray and narrow. The sky seemed always clouded over, though she knew there was sunlight. She could not eat by herself. Dom fed her soup by hand and patted her rather awkwardly as she sobbed, both of them embarrassed by her access of sorrow. It was the only time in their marriage that she had cried.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Windup
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« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2013, 09:12:35 PM »

To me, this is the kind of story that really needs to be SF.

While the story is fundamentally about two well-drawn characters interacting with each other, the introduction of "rewiring" technology allowed it to point to much larger issues.   

Two aspects of this story really resonated for me.  One was the description of a treatment that has an important -- maybe even lifesaving -- benefit for a small group of people, which then migrates to a much larger population where the results are far more problematic.  Ritalin is the most obvious case to me, but there are certainly lots of others.  The other resonant aspect was our willingness to solve a sharply-defined problem at the expense of subtle but vital processes that are more diffuse and harder to describe.  I see this in everything from companies willing to trade away long-term organizational viability to make quarterly "numbers," to our willingness to solve immediate economic problems at the expense of pervasive damage to the ecosystem. 

The "rewiring" offered a trade: avoid a prolonged period of acute grief and sadness in exchange for losing access to the full spectrum of human emotion.  For some people, like Linda, avoiding the full depth of emotional pain may indeed be a life or death matter.  But for others -- and I definitely understood Rebekah to be among them -- the trade is not nearly so stark, straightforward and obvious.  But, Rebekah is pressed on all sides to use the rewiring process rather than experience her grief because, well, it's just what people *do* now, isn't it? 

An excellent story that gave me a lot to think about. Good job, Ms. Yu. And thanks to the whole EA team for bringing it to me...   Wink

BTW, what happened to listener feedback?  Has it been discontinued as a feature, or will it be back next week?
« Last Edit: August 31, 2013, 02:22:57 PM by Windup » Logged

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adrianh
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« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2013, 05:18:53 AM »

Quote
One was the description of a treatment that has an important -- maybe even lifesaving -- benefit for a small group of people, which then migrates to a much larger population where the results are far more problematic

The story was interesting too because it left the decision on whether this was true up to the reader.

Where in the story did we see the results of rewiring being seriously problematic to humanity? A drop in popularity of certain kinds of drama? Linda being encouraged to take a year out of school (and the reasons for that don't seem to be entirely unjustifiable.  Arguable certainly - but certainly not clear cut.)

Was Linda's rejection of rewiring a justifiable stand against emotional pain being an essential part of the human condition? Or was it closer to the act of somebody with a serious illness rejecting the medication that could help her?

The author could very easily have taken a very blunt approach to these distinctions. Instead, as you said, we get a lot to think about.

Excellent story. Excellent narration. Loved it.
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flintknapper
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« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2013, 10:29:58 AM »

Okay this might be a stupid question...

First off I havent read the story yet, I will comment on that later. I have read the cartographer wasps and really dug it. So I am looking forward to a great story.

However, this morning I went to the author's website. Under her writing it has fiction, poetry, awards, and programs. It also has end credits to computer games. Is that a thing? I mean isnt that just a list of peoples names at the end of a movie, tv show, or game? am I missing something?

I was just curious. Lots of people on these boards seem to be more in the know when it comes to the writing industry so I thought I would ask.

The website was useful in that it gave me a few more stories to track down by the author.
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adrianh
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« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2013, 02:59:12 PM »

Quote
However, this morning I went to the author's website. Under her writing it has fiction, poetry, awards, and programs. It also has end credits to computer games. Is that a thing? I mean isnt that just a list of peoples names at the end of a movie, tv show, or game? am I missing something?

The site says "Game Credits" which I took to be contributions to the game - rather than the title/end credits in particular.

Also - if you look at the start and end credits for games (and movies) you'll often see quite a lot of work goes into them. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bx6GJChS8yI or http://uk.gamespot.com/super-monkey-ball/videos/13-greatest-video-game-end-credits-6374176/ for example. Somebody writes 'em Wink

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matweller
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« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2013, 03:04:47 PM »

I enjoyed the story very much and was very happy with how the narration came out. I hated the protagonist for her complete lack of courage and desecration of her friend's memory. It's a horrible cop out when undergone for any reason other than life threatening debility, and anybody who underwent that surgery would have to be reclassified under a new species, because they're no longer people.

Feedback will be back next week. We've had to skip weeks before. We probably will again sometime.
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flintknapper
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« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2013, 03:44:12 PM »

Quote
However, this morning I went to the author's website. Under her writing it has fiction, poetry, awards, and programs. It also has end credits to computer games. Is that a thing? I mean isnt that just a list of peoples names at the end of a movie, tv show, or game? am I missing something?

The site says "Game Credits" which I took to be contributions to the game - rather than the title/end credits in particular.



Ack i get it. Game credits actually means credit for writing the game. For some reason that through me for a loop. That makes perfect sense. I play video games myself. It doesnt suprise me that you would want to get credit if you wrote one of the games.
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Yuli
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« Reply #7 on: September 01, 2013, 04:40:04 AM »

I've been an Escape Pod listener for a while now but never commented on the forums before, almost a couple of times but never quite made it.
Needless to say as with most first time posters I'm posting about a story I particularly enjoyed. I thought the prose in this story was wonderful. Vivid and poetic and far in excess of anything I could have come up with.  I liked the small detail's like the 'faint tiny fine cracks in her foundation' and writing her first postcard with 'large letters shaky with disuse' and her repeated 'it's quite alright' to family and the doctors.

Not sure I agreed with Rebecca's actions in the story and not sure that I liked her very much but I did empathise with her and was convinced by the writing.
One very minor gripe I have is with the procedure itself.  Not sure that a medical procedure involving lots of needles and a general anaesthetic would be so popular that people would undergo the operation to remove memories of being dumped. I would prefer some kind of simple quick electromagnetic headgear to zap those painful memories. That way there could be clinics on every corner. Maybe I've just had an uncomfortable incident at work when Gregg from accounts embarrassed me in front of the boss. The kind of incident that might fester and gnaw at my self confidence. Hey look there's a happy memories clinic I'll just pop in....

I usually enjoy Alisdair's bits at the end and particularly liked this episodes summary. 'It's easy to be defined by grief. But it's fun to define your life by creativity, and joy, and sweat, and effort. Your pain is yours and you need it, but don't JUST need it.' Wise words.
Sorry, seemed to have rambled on a bit here!!
« Last Edit: September 01, 2013, 04:45:15 AM by Yuli » Logged
adrianh
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« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2013, 05:35:35 AM »

Quote
One very minor gripe I have is with the procedure itself.  Not sure that a medical procedure involving lots of needles and a general anaesthetic would be so popular that people would undergo the operation to remove memories of being dumped

The way I read the story rewiring doesn't effect memory...

"She had been twelve years old when rewiring was first approved for use on a limited clinical population. The treatment involved a brew of sixteen neurotoxins finely tuned to leave normal motor, memory, and cognitive processes intact, burning out only those neural pathways associated with grief and trauma. It was recognized as a radical advancement in medicine, and the neuroscientists involved in its development had been decorated with medals, presidential visits, and a research foundation in their names."

It targets grief & trauma. It's a painkiller not an eraser...

That made it a much more interesting story for me than a memory eraser. Removing the pain is a much more subtle and intriguing ethical issue than removing the memory IMHO.
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Yuli
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« Reply #9 on: September 01, 2013, 07:19:25 AM »

Quote
One very minor gripe I have is with the procedure itself.  Not sure that a medical procedure involving lots of needles and a general anaesthetic would be so popular that people would undergo the operation to remove memories of being dumped

The way I read the story rewiring doesn't effect memory...

"She had been twelve years old when rewiring was first approved for use on a limited clinical population. The treatment involved a brew of sixteen neurotoxins finely tuned to leave normal motor, memory, and cognitive processes intact, burning out only those neural pathways associated with grief and trauma. It was recognized as a radical advancement in medicine, and the neuroscientists involved in its development had been decorated with medals, presidential visits, and a research foundation in their

names."

It targets grief & trauma. It's a painkiller not an eraser...

That made it a much more interesting story for me than a memory eraser. Removing the pain is a much more subtle and intriguing ethical issue than removing the memory IMHO.


Reading the above, think you are right about this, will take a second listen! It certainly does make it more subtle and interesting.
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2013, 07:39:45 AM »

I'm still halfway through the story.
I dropped in to post my thoughts on the narration.
While I certainly appreciate Eleiece's (clearly great) effort to carefully and clearly enunciate every syllable so that there were no garbled words, it came at a price. The reading was stilted, halting.
Quote
Rebekah held the crisping flower in her palm, the desk lamp lighting the petals like a paper lantern, and remembered the feeling of pastel dust on her fingers and the scrape of asphalt on her skin.
Became
Quote
Rebekah held the crisping flower in her palm - the desk. Lamp lighting. The petals like a paper lantern. And remembered the feeling of pastel dust on her fingers. And the scrape of asphalt on her skin.

I know that it's a tough decision: crystal clear words or natural flow of sentences. The two are often mutually exclusive, and each narrator has to make the choice. However, since I live in a social environment with other people, I am used to hearing them speak in natural tones and intonations. Therefore, even if I hear a garbled half syllable, the sentence still makes sense to me. Much more so than if every syllable were carefully and painstakingly pronounced, but with the lilting stutter of a robot unfamiliar with punctuation.
Not that this narration was nearly as bad as that, but it was uncomfortable.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that given the choice, I'd opt for more natural flow and slightly slurred words over crystal clear pronunciation and slightly misused punctuation.

EDIT: As the story progressed the narrator got more into it and focused less on enunciation and more on reading, so it got better. There were still awkward moments, but fewer.
« Last Edit: September 01, 2013, 10:42:44 AM by Max e^{i pi} » Logged

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Windup
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« Reply #11 on: September 02, 2013, 11:56:28 AM »


Feedback will be back next week. We've had to skip weeks before. We probably will again sometime.


OK.  Mostly, I wanted you to know I appreciate it and miss it when it isn't there.  Wink
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flintknapper
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« Reply #12 on: September 02, 2013, 04:18:16 PM »

Solid story. Not nearly as good as Cartographer Wasps, but Yu clearly has a ton of range in the stories she can write. I appreciate that even if this specific episode is a miss for me in a lot of ways.

I get that our grief is a part of us. It helps make us who we are, but I think the story goes a little over the top in trying to make it what defines us. I agree with Alasdair and some of the other commenters that it cannot all be about grief.

Also this setting of the future didn't really speak to me. It was pretty much the same as today. Things were not that bad but not that good. It was neither positive or negative, but rather the status quo. The only negative was the closure of the post office.   

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HoopyFreud
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« Reply #13 on: September 02, 2013, 04:43:59 PM »

Quote
I hated the protagonist for her complete lack of courage and desecration of her friend's memory.

So did she.

I loved this story. I'm a sucker for tragedies of the "by what measure is a man" variety, but this one really stood out. There's something incredibly beautiful in human tragedy, and in the meta-tragedy of losing it. This is definitely one of my favorite stories in a while.
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adrianh
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« Reply #14 on: September 02, 2013, 07:40:44 PM »

I get that our grief is a part of us. It helps make us who we are, but I think the story goes a little over the top in trying to make it what defines us. I agree with Alasdair and some of the other commenters that it cannot all be about grief.

I didn't get that definitional vibe from the story myself. I thought the author rode the line throughout on whether rewiring was good or bad - and how much grief and tragedy defined us.

Both the Rebekah and Linda lived their lives without being rewired. They both went through tragedies (and I don't buy that Rebekah's "possibilities" were any less deep a loss than Linda's "actuals").

They both survived until - well - one of them couldn't survive any more.

I am less certain than other commentators that Linda's decision to move forward in her life without pain was a bad decision.


Also this setting of the future didn't really speak to me. It was pretty much the same as today. Things were not that bad but not that good. It was neither positive or negative, but rather the status quo. The only negative was the closure of the post office.   


Which was one of the things that made the story for me. A utopia or dystopia would be the author telling us whether rewiring is good or bad. Whether grief and tragedy are central to defining yourself or not. This way the reader has to decide.
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Moon_Goddess
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« Reply #15 on: September 03, 2013, 08:06:20 AM »

Firstly, I know it doesn't need to be said, but I'm going to say it anyways

I don't want my pain taken away! I need my pain!


I'm probably one of the people who would get most recommended for a service like this, and I'm probably one of the people it was originally intended for before it got trendy.

But all the same, I would not allow it, the idea of living in that world where loss doesn't mean anything to anyone, they just brush it aside, that's scary.    I guarantee, that elsewhere in that world Rebekah and Linda inhabit are countless stories that would belong on Psuedopod.
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matweller
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« Reply #16 on: September 03, 2013, 08:24:40 AM »

QFT
...the idea of living in that world where loss doesn't mean anything to anyone, they just brush it aside, that's scary.

There are no ups without downs. There is only mediocrity.
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adrianh
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« Reply #17 on: September 03, 2013, 06:33:57 PM »

Quote
There are no ups without downs. There is only mediocrity.

To play devils advocate: Why is alleviating mental pain so much worse than alleviating physical pain. Is our world worse because of aspirin & anaesthetics?
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #18 on: September 03, 2013, 08:34:36 PM »

Wow.

This hit me, and not just between the eyes. Quite a bit lower, actually. I've been pretty much exactly where Rebekah is, but I agree with Linda (as questionably stable she might be). I'm sure the person I lost would not want me to be completely miserable - in fact I was told I needed to continue with my life - but I couldn't insult the memory of this person by feeling nothing. And I don't want this to sound like a brag, but I think I'm better for it.

Quote
There are no ups without downs. There is only mediocrity.
To play devils advocate: Why is alleviating mental pain so much worse than alleviating physical pain. Is our world worse because of aspirin & anaesthetics?

But where does it end? Should me "alleviate" all strong emotion in the name of social stability? Or should we just be happy all the time? (God knows there are large organizations who would love to pump us full of soma)

Are we not at least partly defined by our ability to struggle with difficultly? Wouldn't this kind of timid behavior stunt us as a society?

And I'm not talking about people who are clinically depressed or truly mentally ill. I'm simply talking about the ordinary experience of life.

(and I would agree that the reading was somewhat sub-par, at least in terms of audio quality.

Nerd Moment: The opera mentioned is  Der Freischutz by Carl Maria von Weber. Tom Waits wrote a version of this (with Robert Wilson and William S. Burroughs) called "The Black Rider".
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matweller
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« Reply #19 on: September 03, 2013, 10:52:32 PM »

Quote
There are no ups without downs. There is only mediocrity.

To play devils advocate: Why is alleviating mental pain so much worse than alleviating physical pain. Is our world worse because of aspirin & anaesthetics?

In your analogy, if you blocked the body's inability to feel pain, you could accidentally set yourself on fire or harm yourself in countless other ways, and if you had a cancer/tapeworm/botfly infection that had eaten half your guts, how would you know before it ate the rest?

Likewise, without pain, even a little, what is there to compare joy to? Pain is an evolutionary imperative: it's motivator to fix problems and enhance security. Since this is sic-fi, what if aliens invaded and took out every global city? Sure, we'd fight back, but would it be with the same zeal if we couldn't suffer for the loss?

Also, I bet at the same time sad songs and movies fell out of favor, there would also be a spike of recreational drugs for people trying to get high just to feel something. "Not high" would become the new low, in effect bringing people back to the same state. How many people with the various weight loss surgeries do you see return to some level of fat? About as many as go poor from winning the lottery [in my wild, purely anecdotal guesstimation]. People have internal balances that their body, it's chemistry and their very nature will struggle like a caged rat to find.
« Last Edit: September 04, 2013, 02:56:13 PM by matweller » Logged
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